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Hospital staff should use more than one method to detect adverse events and potential adverse events: incident reporting, pharmacist surveillance and local real-time record review may all have a place
  1. Sisse Olsen,
  2. Graham Neale,
  3. Kat Schwab,
  4. Beth Psaila,
  5. Tejal Patel,
  6. E Jane Chapman,
  7. Charles Vincent
  1. Clinical Safety Research Unit, Department of Bio-surgery and Technology, Imperial College, St Mary’s Hospital, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 MsS Olsen
 Department of Bio-surgery and Technology, Imperial College, 10th Floor QEQM Wing, St Mary’s Hospital London W2 1NY, UK; s.olsen{at}


Background: Over the past five years, in most hospitals in England and Wales, incident reporting has become well established but it remains unclear how well reports match clinical adverse events. International epidemiological studies of adverse events are based on retrospective, multi-hospital case record review. In this paper the authors describe the use of incident reporting, pharmacist surveillance and local real-time record review for the recognition of clinical risks associated with hospital inpatient care.

Methodology: Data on adverse events were collected prospectively on 288 patients discharged from adult acute medical and surgical units in an NHS district general hospital using incident reports, active surveillance of prescription charts by pharmacists and record review at time of discharge.

Results: Record review detected 26 adverse events (AEs) and 40 potential adverse events (PAEs) occurring during the index admission. In contrast, in the same patient group, incident reporting detected 11 PAEs and no AEs. Pharmacy surveillance found 10 medication errors all of which were PAEs. There was little overlap in the nature of events detected by the three methods.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that incident reporting does not provide an adequate assessment of clinical adverse events and that this method needs to be supplemented with other more systematic forms of data collection. Structured record review, carried out by clinicians, provides an important component of an integrated approach to identifying risk in the context of developing a safety and quality improvement programme.

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  • Funding: We wish to thank the BUPA Foundation for funding this study and ALARM (Association for Litigation and Risk Management) of which EJC is a trustee and AvMA (Action against Medical Accidents) of which GN was a trustee for enabling the research.

  • Conflicting interests: None declared.

  • Ethics approval: Proposal for this study were submitted to external advisers. The Brent Medical Ethics Committee gave their approval in October 2003 (BEC 1060).